“Ya do whatchya gotta do, baby!”
The words, which at first seem incongruous with this gray-haired professor of organic chemistry, are, at second thought, perfectly fitting as the motto and life-long rallying cry of David Manyan.
The son of a relatively uneducated mill worker from Franklin, New Hampshire, Manyan achieved great success in life despite his humble beginnings. His down-to-earth nature, iron work-ethic, ability to relate to others, and sense of honor and duty are all key attributes for someone who helped usher UNE’s College of Osteopathic Medicine through an initial period of hardship. Indeed, his moral fabric seems to be sewn of the very stuff that is needed to make an extraordinary teacher and an exemplary academic in a relatively small but highly successful university.
Manyan’s childhood was the epitome of the idyllic New England upbringing. “It was kind of like a Tom Sawyer childhood,” he explained. His parents, though not well-off, were loving and “very, very supportive.” Manyan was raised with the expectation to work hard and has been steadily employed from the age of 14.
He arrived for his freshman year at Bowdoin to sights that were beyond his blue-collar imagination. “Kids from prep schools were arriving on campus in limousines,” he recalled, “with suitcase after suitcase. I showed up with two pairs of pants and a jacket that our neighbor had made for me. That first year was a tough one,” he said with a shake of his head. “But I caught on fast.”
Manyan went on to earn a Ph.D., and despite the fact that he was clearly on the road to a successful career at the University of Miami, Manyan’s love for semi-rural New England life burned on. He accepted an offer to teach at the soon-to-open medical school of St. Francis College, the Biddeford college that preceded the birth of the University of New England.
Upon arrival in 1975 he learned that the medical school was not yet ready to open and so, instead, filled a vacancy for an undergraduate chemistry professor. Manyan found his lab in a state of disrepair with plywood slabs as tables and half- broken equipment. He and his lab assistant, drills in hand, went to work fixing the lab and mending equipment themselves, though they did bring in some help to repair the IR (infra-red) instrument, which, when opened up, turned out to be home to a mouse nest.
The financially struggling institution of St. Francis would have been off-putting to many academics looking for a career move. But the decision to leave a promising career at the University of Miami was not made with prestige or strategic career goals in mind. “I’ve never been solely career-minded,” said Manyan. “Some people will move to wherever their work takes them. I’ve never been like that. I wanted to be in Maine. To me, it’s more important to have a great quality of life without the monster salary.”
That “great quality of life” in the early years consisted, at times, of installing his own lab benches, fixing broken instruments, tearing up tobacco-stained carpeting, using lab equipment held together with bailing wire and duct tape, and working beneath spotlights made with aluminum juice cans.
“We did what we had to do in order to function,” recalled Manyan, “because we knew that if we didn’t, we would never survive.”
It’s the same reason, he said, why he has held so many positions at UNE’s College of Osteopathic Medicine and served on so many committees for nearly four decades “You do what needs doing,” he explained. “You rise to the occasion.”
Aside from his tenacity, a healthy dose of passion for his subject matter certainly hasn’t hurt Manyan’s ability to thrive all these years. “You wouldn’t believe his enthusiasm for mitochondria,” joked Department Chair Barbara Winterson. “He’s engaging; he’s lively. He is outstanding in the classroom. You can’t not listen to him when he speaks, and you’re always happier for it.”
One of Manyan’s greatest accomplishments at UNE has been playing an instrumental role in the development of online classes, a creation that grew into the COM Distance Learning program and now exists as part of UNE’s Online Worldwide Learning (OWL). As colleague Kathy Thompson pointed out, “It’s pretty remarkable for someone who is toward the latter part of his career to do something that is cutting edge.”
No one, however, questioned why Manyan took on the task.
It needed doing.